all the muses I've been

Alison Kronstadt
Content Warnings
"What a terrible, messy thing to be given a heart..."
Dec 24, 2020 10:47 PM

What a terrible, messy thing to be given a heart.

You walk along, maybe humming, maybe wandering and wondering - then -

a sudden red mass, thrust into your palms: its sodden weight dripping

with thumps, an unrelenting reminder of its hereness, its belonging

to someone who liked your smile, who even heard you read a poem on mute,

their pulsing drowning out the words to focus on the curving

of your lips, let their mind wander without wonder.

To be a muse is to be decided for. To be posed, to still your body

if not your whispering instincts: that you should have been asked,

that “subject” is a verb and not a noun, there’s a crack

in the pedestal and you didn’t struggle

out of your mother to be an ornament in someone else’s story.

So soft the alarm bells clink, like toasting glasses.

Soft because they have been sanded down like your edges

and called love, they have been painted over like your mouth and called love,

they have stretched blank canvas across your name, as if your ancestors never fought

to pass it onto you, as if you sprung from sea foam,

from a holy skull, a handmade reward for that wayward beast beating

its escape route from its cage of bone.

You, of course, say nothing. Use your best manners, glow when you’re told,

carry whatever names and attributes they give you. You try not to look

at the bloody lump in your hands. It confirms what you know:

a gaze that can behold and not see makes a monster as easy as a maiden.

Every love story is a witch hunt on its best behavior.


Old habits don't have to be your own

old habits to die hard.

I render myself at a distance. Board up the cracks

where a personality might wriggle through.

Let me try again: once I had black hair.

Once I was a man, empty and incapable

of love. Lies made laurel by

their weaving into ode, song, promise.

Sometimes I lie. Sometimes I fart

in my sleep. I sleep alone. I like that.

Sometimes I feel my body's edges,

nosebridge to knuckles to knees,

make flesh the reminder

that however indefinitely imagined,

I am bounded in skin.

Sometimes I recite the facts of myself:

my birthday, my allergies, the mole

on my back. Each certainty a pin

through everything named

up for debate, for declaration

by any pen-wielder in eyeshot.

When I shake the pretty off

I become the one the wisemen

warned you of in whispers.


The whole of me is sharp,

silver and slowly turning

outward, dancing spiderwebs

through the display-glass.

ALISON KRONSTADT (they/them and she/her) is a writer, youth worker, and anti-partner abuse advocate currently living in Boston / on stolen Wampanoag land. Their work is featured or forthcoming in The Breakwater Review, FreezeRay, Cosmonauts Avenue, and HEArt Online Journal, among others. Find her on twitter @flalymagee.